Customer Service Representatives (CSRs) often ask me how to deal with “bad” or “disrespectful” behavior from their customers.  The CSR does not want to make the customer uncomfortable or offend them, but they also want to avoid any problems the customer might create that would prevent the CSR or the customer from having a wonderful experience.

What you and I might consider to be “common sense” etiquette can be for others unfamiliar cultural differences.  Decades ago, etiquette and manners were a common part of society and people expected a certain standard of behavior when they interacted with each other.  For example, it used to be common practice for a man to stand when a woman entered the room.  Practices like this were developed to show a high degree of respect to other people.  However, in our business world today, such common sense practices are unfortunately not so common.

We are not talking about customers who are upset or angry with the service.  This is where skills and techniques related to “conflict resolution” come into play.  No, we are talking about plain old disrespectful and impolite behavior.  Examples might be a customer talking on their cell phone while you’re trying to provide them with some sort of service they are requesting.  Another example could be the customer completely ignoring or disregarding their unsupervised kids who are tearing up your store or office.  Lastly, the customer is so distracted with updating, texting, chatting, gaming, tweeting, or surfing on their mobile devise that communication with them about their situation becomes ineffective.  Customers with these types of discourteous behaviors are not bad people, they simply have not been taught the proper etiquette and manners when interacting with other people in a public setting.

Below are few recommendations and suggestions that CSRs can use to avoid these issues, and how to deal with them when they pop up.

1. Establish Upfront Expectations

The best time to deal with a problem is before the problem ever arises.  Ask any firefighter.  It is much easier to prevent a fire than it is to extinguish a fire.  So, at the beginning of the customer interaction, share with them a few examples of past issues that could create problems for them and you if left unchecked.  Give them specific examples.  Let them know that you want to avoid those issues.

2. Teach and Model Proper Manners

Give them an example of how they can handle an issue if it pops up during your conversation or interaction with them.  You might say, “If you happen to get a non-emergency call while we are chatting, you can either let it go to voice mail or quickly tell them you’ll call them back after we are done.  Are you OK with that?”  Or, you might say, “If your kids want to explore, please stay with them at all times and help them not be too rowdy.  We don’t want to create problems for other customers.  Are you OK with that?”  Also, share with them what you will do if an issue pops up.

3. Gain Mutual Understanding and Agreement

Ask the customer if they are OK with your suggestions or if what you have described allows them to voice their thoughts and ultimately agree with what you have said.  This is very important.  Once you have done this you have basically created a verbal contract with them.  You have mutual understanding and agreement.  This alone should solve about 90% of the problems.

Even if you have done a good job at implementing the three tips listed above, things still happen. What do you do when an issue pops up?  How do you deal with it?  You obviously don’t want to make the customer uncomfortable or offend them.  You don’t want to make a bigger mess to deal with, so what do you do?  First, make sure you avoid a few common mistakes.  Here are some:


Avoid These Common Mistakes

1. The Silent Treatment

Some CSRs have been tempted to walk away from a customer or intentionally ignore them when an issue pops up.  They think “Well, she needs to learn what it is like to be treated disrespectfully.  Maybe then she will start acting differently.”  Unfortunately, as my mom always used to say, “Two wrongs do not make a right.”

2. The Guilt Trip

What else doesn’t work?  Having the CSR try and make the customer feel guilty by making condescending, sarcastic, or critical comments to the customer about the issue.  This will backfire almost every time and instead will only build animosity and create bigger problems.

3. The Nag

CSRs who monitor the customers behavior and then start to nit-pick, remind, and nag them about the potential issues, will also create more problems than they are solving.

4. The Threat

Some CSRs have been tempted to “lay down the law” and get tough with customers.  Threatening, intimidating, or bullying the customer will not end well. The customer may cooperate in the short run, but watch out for the backlash that comes later.  Beware negative word of mouth, angry social media posts, negative publicity, etc. These things can do real damage to a business.  You do not want to make an enemy.

So what do you do then?  If you can’t give them the silent treatment, guilt trip them, nag them, or threaten them, what can you do? These tips below will get you farther and keep things from getting even worse.  Warning, these are not a sure bet in 100% of the cases out there.  You have to use common sense and be aware of the unique needs of your customer.  Cater to them while also not allowing them to walk all over you.


Try These Instead

1. Go Back To Your Agreement

Remind them of the upfront expectations that you talked about at the beginning.  Remind them that the issue will create unnecessary challenges for you and them during your chat or interaction.  Ask them how they would like to handle the situation.  Keep responsibility for the situation and the solution on their shoulders.  Hold them to the agreement they made earlier.

2. Be Empathetic

Watch your tone of voice.  Do not be sarcastic or condescending.  Be nurturing, understanding, and patient.  Your tone of voice needs to be empathetic, sincere, and gentle.  This is one of the great secrets in working with people.  You will find people open up, apologize, and quickly show you respect if they feel like you are on their side and treating them with respect.

3. Give Them Options

Even though you are holding them accountable for the issue and the solution, that doesn’t mean you can’t help.  Offer them an A or B option.  For example, if their phone rings (because it is not on vibrate or silent – that would be the respectful thing to do…) right in the middle of your conversation and it is clear they are going to answer it,  you can say something like, “Voice mail, or call them back after we are done.  Which would be better for you?”  If they take the call and it is clear that they are going to keep chatting until the call is over, you can gently interrupt them and ask, “Do you want to call them back, or do you want to come get me when you’re done?”  Sometimes these simple A and B options cause them to honor their previous agreement with you.

4. Protect the Experience

As a CSR you need to protect the customer service experience and process.  Do this by having courage to be flexible when it is needed or to hold firm when it is needed.  Be willing to bend and flex when extenuating circumstances must be taken into consideration.  Make appropriate allowances for unexpected things that pop up.  Be patient and willing to adjust.  On the other hand, protect the process by trusting that it will produce the best results for the customer.  The customer may have preferences that conflict with your process.  Explain what the process is, why it is there, and how it will benefit them.  Be the expert and hold firm.  If the customer insists, you may bend, but make sure it is with full disclosure of the risks or potential problems involved.  Make sure your communication is clear and empathetic.  Being flexible and firm requires courage.


No Excuse

Our modern society has lost many of the commonly practiced behaviors and manners that used to express the highest respect towards others.  Even though the actions of our customers may, on occasion, be more impolite and disrespectful, that does not excuse CSRs in resorting to nagging, threatening, or guilt tripping their customers into changing their behavior.  Instead they must be armed with tips that do not make the customer uncomfortable or offend them.  CSRs must use strategies that protect the customer process while also not creating more problems along the way.  Setting upfront expectations with the customer will help prevent problems from arising in most circumstances.  Often times you will need to teach the customer “proper” manners, or the “proper” way to handle the issue if it does pop up.  Asking them if they are okay with what is expected and what will happen if an issue pops up will help achieve mutual understanding with the customer.  These tools, along with the others that have been mentioned, will help CSRs more effectively deal with disrespectful customers.




Terry Hansen is a popular speaker, consultant, trainer, and author on helping sales teams improve their ability to create value for their prospects and clients. He is regularly asked to train sales and management teams in strategies to find more prospects, close more sales, and increase customer loyalty through value creation strategies. You can connect with Terry on LinkedIn, or get more information by visiting or calling 844-205-5054.